Putin’s imperialism can’t hide Russia’s problems

Fareed Zakaria argues in the latest TIME magazine that Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s provocative action against his Ukrainian neighbors signifies Putin’s focus on Russia’s past.

The crisis in Crimea reminds us there are two kinds of rulers around the world: those who think about the past and those who think about the future. If it were not abundantly clear before, it is now–Vladimir Putin is a man who thinks about the past. His country will be the poorer for it.
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If you read and listen to commentary, you will hear many stories about Russia’s long association with Crimea, a relationship that dates back to the 18th century. Crimea was the first great prize wrested from the Ottoman Empire, a mark of Russia’s rise to great-power status. It also gave Russia something it had never had: a warm-water port with direct access to the Mediterranean and thus the wider world. …

… He may get Crimea. But what has he achieved? Ukraine has slipped out of Russia’s grasp, its people deeply suspicious of Moscow. Even in Crimea, the 40% who are non-Russian are probably restive and resentful. Moscow’s neighbors are alarmed, and once-warming relations with Poland will be set back. Trade and investment with Europe and the U.S. will surely suffer, whether there are sanctions or not.

Meanwhile, Russia continues along its path as an oil-dependent state with an increasingly authoritarian regime that has failed to develop its economy or civil society or to foster political pluralism. But no matter–Moscow controls Crimea. In today’s world, is that really a victory?

If Putin were interested in focusing on the future, he might address some of the problems Peter Coclanis identified during an August 2009 speech to the John Locke Foundation’s Shaftesbury Society.

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